EXPERIENCES - MANAGING A REGIONAL REUNION
May 1st and 2nd, 2009 we held a regional reunion for 1962 classmates in
the Pacific Northwest Region, namely Oregon, Washington and
Idaho. Others from around the country were also invited, and
several attended from outside of the region, but the focus was on the
Pacific Northwest. This was a follow-up to a similar gathering in
this region held back in 2002, which was hosted by Seattle area
There is really nothing magic about putting one of
these together, and probably most of what I'm going to outline below is
pretty obvious. As I step through the considerations, I will be
reflecting on what we did here, which seemed to work out well.
I'm not trying to insult your intelligence by stating the obvious, it
just seems to make sense to lay it all out as we experienced it, and
provide some hind-sight comments. You can pluck out the nuggets
that may be appropriate to your region and circumstances.
If I had to pick out two of the principal considerations, it would be on advance planning and communications.
I will be emphasizing these, and will provide attachments of several
documents that we used during the course of this affair. Please
feel free to copy these and use them to your heart's content as you may
In order to assist in putting this into context, I
suggest that you check out my website that includes a recap of what we
did, who was there, and some insight on the venues that we used.
There are also a lot of pictures linked to it. Click HERE to
visit the website.
Oregon, Washington and Idaho, according to Stew Lingley's roster, we
have 66 classmates. Ten of them do not have email, so I sent out
a snail-mail to them with my initial broadcast. This initial
message was pretty brief (see below for a copy of this and other
emails) and it went out about May of 2008, a year in advance of the
event. From this initial "show of interest" communication, in
which we asked for a response, by August 2008 we had 25 yes (a couple
were for stag), 16 maybe, and 25 no response. In this mailing, we
described the preliminary itinerary, and gave a really broad estimate
of costs, which we guessed would be under $200 per couple, not counting
motel rooms. Assuming most of the yesses came, and half of the
maybes, that would be about 28 classmates, plus 25 spouses/others, for
a total of 53 people. This was enough info to start doing some
firm booking of venues and accomodations. We expected some
additional fallout, so we basically planned for 50 people.
Meanwhile, we advertised in CA, NM, NV, NM and AZ. Two classmates
and 3 people came from that area. Our Shipmate article brought in
five others, including Ray Madonna and Stew Lingley, our pres and
communicator respectively. Our total number, including
last-minute fallouts of which there were a couple, was 24 classmates
and total people of 42. Now, this may or may not be
representative of the response that one might expect from other
regions. We did followups with the non-respondents, which helped
our numbers somewhat.
I downloaded Stew's roster from the '62
website, and sorted the spreadsheet data to select the states I wanted,
and then printed out the columns I needed. I was able to extract
the email addresses in .csv format from Excel, and import them into
Outlook Express so I didn't have to type them all in. Piece of
cake for you "techies." Those with no email I got the snail-mail
addresses from the roster, and sent mailings.
EARLY PLANNING AND VENUE SELECTION
is really the first process that must take place. Depending on
the locality, this needs to be started at a minimum 12 or 14 months
ahead of time, such as for us in Oregon, where we're still shooting
buffalo and chasing indians. In places like San Diego, which is
holding a gathering in April of 2010, I know they had to start the
booking process about 3 years ahead of time in order to obtain the
reservations they needed.
The very first thing is to form a
committee and select a focus for the event, and establish the dates and
a tentative itinerary. Someone came up with the Evergreen
Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, as a
possibility. We made a trip there to check it out, and discovered
that it had everything we could hope for. It's only about 25
miles from Portland, there was a good motel about a mile from the
museum complex, and many excellent restaurants and possible banquet
venues. The museum is fantastic, it has a broad appeal to
non-military people, and a special appeal to us military types,
particularly pilots. While there, we found out the dates that
were available, some initial information on prices and what exactly
would be available to us on a group basis. We went ahead and
booked 40 rooms at the Comfort Inn Motel, with the understanding that
as soon as we had firm numbers we would release rooms. Of the 40
rooms we booked, 3 of them were set up for handicapped access. If
they're not needed, you can usually release them after the sign-up
sheets arrive. We got the military rate of $100/night. We
established a single person to work with at the motel. We also
did this at the other venues: there were event coordinators at
both the museum and at the restaurant where we had the banquet.
This is important to do, with one point of contact you can cut through
a lot of wasted time and have some continuity to the planning, and
establish early-on the various costs.
We had a few considerations in establishing the actual event itinerary. Here they are:
Most of the people were either driving from the Seattle area or were
flying in; most would arrive on Thursday, and would be
travel-weary. No events until mid-day on Friday.
We are not spring chickens (roosters) any more. Don't overdo
things, and try not to cram too much into one day. Leave some
time to relax between events.
- Be cognizant that some of
us who attend are bound to be somewhat disabled - be cognizant of
walker and/or wheelchair access, and no long uphill walks.
Split the time out between formal events and available time for ad hoc
informal gatherings. The motel where we stayed was great for this
- they had a quite large room, with many tables and chairs, where they
served a buffet breakfast (way more than just a continental
breakfast). This was open and available throughout the duration
of the affair, and several times whole groups of folks would gather and
visit before or after formal events.
- People need time to
pace themselves. The Friday wine tour was over at about 3:30 PM,
and people could relax before coming to the reception, which started at
3:30 but ran until 6:30, and people came and went. Similarly, the
guided museum tour followed the group photo-shoot at 10:30 on Saturday,
and lasted about 1-1/2 hours. Then people could pace themselves
for the self-guided tour, and/or see an IMAX showing, and be at the
resaurant for the banquet at 6:30 without having to rush themselves.
The "dinner on your own" followed the Friday reception, so people could
arrange that for themselves, in groups or solo. We gave several
recommendations in their arrival packet. Most went to a local
authentic Spanish restaraunt and had either tapas or paella. It
is suggested that members of the Planning Committee inquire among the
attendees to welcome them to join a group for dinner, in case they are
unsure of where to go and may feel left out.
knew for sure that we would have a reception one evening and a banquet
the next. We discussed this with the museum event coordinator,
and found out we could do everything right there at the museum if we
wished. As it turned out, the cost for a catered banquet was
hugely expensive unless you are hosting a couple of hundred people, so
we passed on that. The reception, though, was another
story. They had the facilities in their IMAX theater complex to
host a 3-hour reception for a $225 flat fee, for the numbers (~50) that
we were anticipating. So we booked that for the desired
evening. They gave us some recommendations for catered hors
d'oeuvres and for bartenders, which we later followed up on. We
also determined the costs for guided tours of the museums and for IMAX
I was familiar with a restaurant/brew pub that served
excellent food that was also close by the motel, so we met with the
banquet manager there. They had a room that could handle (in a
pinch) up to 60 people for a buffet banquet. With our number
being about 50, we visited and checked out the place, and booked it for
the desired evening. The room was completely separated from the
main restaurant, and had the facilities we needed to hook up our own
sound system (I provided my own, so no cost involved) with mics and a
CD player that we needed. We were able to hang '62 class banners,
and we brought both US and USNA flags that we use at our chapter alumni
meetings in Portland
Visits to the McMinnville Chamber of
Commerce and the Downtown Historical Society provided us with
brochures, guidebooks and pamphlets that we could use later as arrival
packet envelope stuffers.
I got in touch with our state Director of Veterans' Affairs, Jim Willis, who agreed to speak at the banquet.
are issues dealing with local liquor laws, liability insurance, use of
licensed caterers, etc., that come up. We found that working with
the museum event coordinator for reception issues, and following her
guidance and selecting vendors that she had worked with before,
eliminated any of these kinds of problems.
We now had bookings
for all of the pertinent events, with the understanding that the
numbers would be refined as we got commitments from the
attendees. We only had to come up with one small deposit
(restaurant) which one of our committee members put on his credit
card. We were now ready to establish costs and proceed with the
signup process and money collection.
costs we knew precisely, because they were on a per/person basis, and
didn't have to be paid in advance. Other items were a flat rate,
so we had to estimate the individual amounts to be assessed, based on
Per person items:
Banquet: we selected from their buffet/banquet menu a meal that
included roast beef and chicken entrees, various side dishes, beverage
and dessert, for $30 per person, including gratuity. This is
probably half or less of the costs that would be incurred in a "big
city" - and we didn't have to pay anything for the room.
Cocktails were no-host, with roving servers. Wine and beer were
also available no-host. We added $5 per person as a
cushion. We of course paid for our speaker's dinner, that was $30
for the comp.
- Museums and IMAX: We gave a choice
when signing up; both museums plus an IMAX showing for $23/person
or just both museums for $18/person. The aviation museum was a
docent-guided tour, and we had two volunteer docents guiding two groups
of us. The space museum segment was a self-guided
arrangement. We didn't need tickets for the museums - the name
badge got your hand stamped. We did get tickets in advance for
those signing up for IMAX.
- The Friday wine tasting tour
was $25/person, which was collected at the time of the tour instead of
in advance. Until we got our sign-up sheets back, we didn't know
what the cost would be, or how many would even be interested. As
it turned out, many of the people went on this tour. The same
thing for golf. Nobody wanted to play golf, so this possible
event was scrubbed.
- Hors d'oeuvres were about $8 per
person, for meat and cheese platters, mixed nuts, and toast points for
the brie cheese. This was sufficient for a 3:30 PM reception,
since dinner was "on your own" after the reception, which ended at 6:30
Flat fee items:
- Reception: $225 for the room. Actually, it was a mezzanine lobby for the IMAX theater.
Bartender: $250 flat fee, which covered his liquor license and
other basic expenses. He charged only $3.50 for well drinks, and
had several selections of beers and wines, plus quite a bit of really
good alcohol for a premium.
- Name badges with lanyards
were about $1 per person, so we estimated $50. Badges were
purchased at Staples, the lanyards through an on-line merchant, and I
composed and printed the inserts for the badges, including scanned
pictures from our yearbook. (Click HERE)
for an example of our namebadges. I used a picture of the USNA
Chapel for the women's badges. I based a cost of $.25 per each
for ink and paper costs. I understand that there are scanned
yearbook pictures in existence that have been used in the past for our
Annapolis reunions. Rather than reinventing the wheel, these may
be available through the class reunion committee.
Miscellaneous costs: There were some mailing and duplicating
costs, and the costs of the manila envelopes used for the arrival
packets. These ran about another $50.
registration and reception costs, based on 50 people, were going to be
about $25/person. We also bumped this up by $5 for a cushion, to
cover the flat fee costs in case we had some cancellations (which we
did). After it was all over, we had enough money left to
reimburse the 2 or 3 people who had paid in advance, but last-minute
crises prohibited them from coming. We reimbursed the committee
for some out-of-pocket expenses incurred, and ultimately had $200 left
over which we sent to the class of '62 fund.
We opened a bank
account with WaMu (now Chase) with no fees, including free checks, that
we used for all of the deposits from attendees and payment of all
expenses. After the last transaction cleared, we closed the
COMMUNICATION WITH CLASSMATES AND SIGN-UP
was a sequence of emails/mailings that went out during the year or so
prior to our established event date. Keeping it on the front
burner through frequent emails and follow-ups, and adding information
as things progress, seems to keep the interest up, and possibly coaxes
some people into coming, who aren't sure when you first ask.
The initial letter went out in late summer of 2008, about 9 or 10
months prior to the event. Click HERE to see a copy of a
similar letter, in which we asked for a show of interest.
Following the sending of this email/letter to classmates in the Pacific
Northwest area, an email/letter also went to classmates in the
- A Shipmate article (HERE) was
sent to Howie Pinsky, and appeared in an issue ahead of the sign-up
deadline. Similar to the initial letter to local classmates.
In February 2009, 3 months ahead of the event, we sent a letter out
with some updated information, to everyone in the area and to those we
had heard from outside of the Pacific Northwest. (HERE). It had more specificity regarding the itinerary, and
provided info on making reservations at the selected motel.
The first of March, we sent one email/mail to the "yesses" and "Maybes"
(HERE) and one to the "nos." (HERE). Attached was a sign-up sheet
and a very specific general information sheet (HERE).
Some strategic phone calls and personal contacts with classmates
resulted in several people coming who were either on the fence, or had
just not got around to scheduling their participation. Some of
our classmates (or their spouse) had some very serious health issues
when the initial interest survey, or the finalized event announcement
was sent out. Continued follow-up, and even some personal contacts
facilitated their attendance.
When a sign-up sheet and a check was received in the mail, I sent
individual emails back to the classmate confirming that I'd received
set up a tracking sheet (HERE) that worked pretty well in keeping me
straight on the sign-ups and the numbers who were going to attend the
ARRIVAL AND EXECUTION
motel people agreed to hand out arrival packets to everyone as they
checked in. The Wednesday before the event I went to McMinnville
(the last of several preparatory trips) and delivered these packets to
our contact person there. They were large manila envelopes with
the last name prominently written on the top, in a box
alphabetically. There were a couple of people who didn't check in
prior to the reception on Friday. I took these remaining packets
with me to the reception, and was able to pass them out there.
The packets contained:
- Name badges and lanyards
- The latest itinerary (HERE)
- A list of attendees (HERE)
- A map of the area showing the locations for the museum/reception, motel, and restaurant for the banquet (HERE)
- Tickets as needed for the functions for which they had signed up.
A whole bunch of stuff that I got from the Chamber of Commerce, the
museum, and the restaurant. This included guides and maps to
nearby places of interest, and info on the history of McMinnville, and
on local recommended restaurants. This info would mainly be
helpful to people who might be extending their stay, and wanted to
explore the area.
Once people had arrived, checked in and come
to the reception, everything went smoothly. I and the committee
had to do some setting up of the venues (final check, banners, sound
system, etc.) but that was pretty minimal.
important - we had few enough attendees that it was not difficult to
get some pretty good individual shots of the participants (see the
website), and some good group shots at the museum. With the
technology we have today, putting them on a web site works nicely for
people to see them. It is important to promulgate in advance with
the event announcement when/where the Group Photo will be taken for
publication in SHIPMATE. Some attendees will arrive after the first
event, and others will want to leave before the last event. With the
group photo venue established in advance, attendees can then schedule
their arrival/departure schedules accordingly, and
disputes/disappointments can be avoided
sent a letter to Shipmate (HERE) that reported our event, and included
some pictures that could be incorporated into an article.
Preparing and uploading the website is of course an optional thing to
do, but it has been well received. Other than making final
payments and closing out the bank account, there was very little to do
after the fact.
First, I want to be sure to recognize the contributions to the success of our event by Tom Hitchcock, Butch Bewick, and Gene McPhail
in Seattle, who was our representative in the Puget Sound area and
advice-giver based on his prior experience in managing a similar
gathering in 2002.
I would highly recommend other regions to
mount a similar function. It is a lot of fun, and very gratifying
when everyone seems to enjoy it. It's a lot of work, but is
spread out over a pretty long period from inception to execution.
anyone would like to have any more info, or consult with me on more
specific details, please email me at email@example.com or call at 503